AER - 1, BS - 0.5
That’s right. Backstreet's back, and so is our #65 Miata, making it's inaugural voyage with its "new" engine after the last one blew. Team 5HP Racing didn't know what to expect as we made the journey to Watkins Glen International for a weekend with American Endurance Racing, as our Miata would be on the track for more than 18 hours.
Quite a stable energy. Photo credit: Tyler Keller Photography
That's right, AER offers 18 hours of competitive racing split over two 9 hour race days. The fun commences with a 4 hour qualifying session on Friday that separates the Team 5HP Racings from the teams with actual experience. But perhaps the coolest part about AER (besides all the track time) is the wide range of drivers the series attracts. Last weekend, the grid ranged from endurance racing newbies like us to seasoned race drivers and performance driving instructors. And the wide range of cars on the starting grid mirrored this variance.
Speaking of mirrors, the #65 Miata's mirrors were by far its most used part over the weekend (you don't drive a Miata in a multi-class race with its engine; you drive it with optics). Though we knew we could rely on its suspension setup, prepped by our race shop buddies over at Stable Energies, our "power"-plant was still an unknown variable. All in all, though, we had a great weekend, though we're now intimately familiar with Miata alternators and E36 taillights (yeah, we saw a few of those...)
The Miata is always the answer. But we still have some questions.
Early Friday morning, we arrived to a snowy track with news that qualifying would be delayed (though our snow-tire clad minivan probably could've laid down a lap or two on the track).
But this wasn't just any snowy track, this was Watkins Glen, which over the years has established its reputation as "The American Road Racing Mecca." Set amongst the mountains and lakes of upstate New York, the vertical changes on the track alone are enough to elevate (sorry) it to elite status. The limited room for error and multitude of high speed corners and straights further enhance the experience.
The view from pit lane.
AER and track officials made sure the 100 teams had a safe track to qualify on, and shortly after noon, the lil Miata scurried onto the track to lay down some lap times. However, every driver on the prestigious Team 5HP Racing was making their debut at Watkins, and the reality was that the last time the Miata's 1.6 had all its horses was when Dave Grohl's band was Nirvana.
The result? The #65 qualified last. Spurred on by this news, the team purchased some deli meats from the local Walmart and headed to bed early for Saturday's 8am start time. Oh yeah, we also changed the brakes, tires, and some other vital stuff. That helped, too.
Saturday morning, Team 5HP Racing showed up to the trailer eager for the Miata to see some race time. Our sister team, RS Racing, was going through the same motions with their #360 E36 M3. We also shared a location in the hot pits together with them, and their presence throughout the weekend was humbling.
Saturday morning at 8, the #65 Miata departed from the grid with its other class 1 brethren (there was no class 0, so AER charitably put us into their slowest class). As it proceeded on its warm-up laps, we couldn't help but feel a sense of pride, the type you get when you make a perfect PB&J sandwich or send a child off to college.
The Charge Of The Light Miata Brigade.
Unfortunately, the Miata was back in the pits after an hour with a bad case of a bad alternator. After a frantic trip to the local auto parts store and a few distressed phone calls, a man wiser than us, a fellow Miata driver who thought to pack some extra alternators, came to the rescue. Alex of NRG Motorsports hooked us up with a new alternator, and our team's surgeons set to work making the requisite repairs.
After learning a healthy amount about NA Miatas' and their relationships with alternators, our car was back on the track. Though our midday fixes put us out of contention for Saturday's standings, we still had a few hours of racing for the team to learn the track and the car. The drivers began to get in their groove, and average and best times continued to drop thanks to the Miata's predictable handling and excellent feedback.
Hey, racing is still cheaper than med school, right?
Excited for a new day of racing and consuming cinnamon rolls at the hotel's breakfast ensemble, Team 5HP Racing left the track in high spirits (well, higher than our placement that day, at least). We were ready for Sunday.
Sunday morning rolled around, and as the #65 Miata's 1.6 liters roared to life that morning, our team couldn't help but think that the car actually sounded healthier than it had before. And though our Miata got passed by everything with an engine and wheels, that meant that our drivers could break from the pack and get in some clean laps. Times during the day continued to drop, meaning that we were finally starting to get our act together.
There's a joke here somewhere...
The relative difficulty of The Glen and the field of nearly 100 cars meant that yellow flags were abundant through both days. In two code brown moments, our team found itself with a front row seat behind the pace car, waiting to get passed en masse. At the end of Sunday, though, the #65 Miata completed over 150 laps with zero reliability issues. Not bad for some t-shirt peddlers.
See that in the background? Blink, and you'll miss it.
Overall, Team 5HP Racing finished right around the middle of the pack in both class and overall standings. We were thrilled with the result considering where we started, and our next stop is a similar event to be held at New Jersey Motorsports Park in a month. Until then, check your batteries and your alternators, and we'll see you on the track.
Special thanks to: Stable Energies, NRG Motorsports, The Organizers and Volunteers with AER, RS Racing, Tyler Keller Photography.